Cranberry Bliss Bars

I can’t remember exactly when I had my first Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bar but I do remember thinking (in no particular order): it could become a very expensive habit, sitting out in the air too long would make them go stale quickly, and only having them available during Christmas holidays was not an option…. I mean, what’s a girl to have as a treat with her coffee mid-March? A cake pop?! Pfft! That’s so last fad.  Never to be outfoxed by a baked good, I went searching into the ether and came back with a promising knock-off recipe … which I further knocked off.  Peace and sanity were restored and mah belly was happy.

One recipe makes a generous batch, enough for your cookie tray and a lucky one or two others.  I’ve never tried to double the recipe into a half sheet pan since I think that’d become too unwieldy for my skill level.  If you’re game, send me pics.  I’ll be amazed!  If by some strange happenstance you get a wild hair and make three batches and find you DO have a few left over, they freeze beautifully in a vacuum-sealed bag.  I can’t begin to tell you how fun it is to do a freezer clean out and find these hiding there.

Fear not non-coffee drinkers, cranberry bliss bars go well with a tall glass of milk, a hot mug of tea and, I hear, a nice dram of bourbon.

Onto the rooftops and down the chimneys, one and all (if you can fit after all the goodies)!


(adapted from Top Secret Recipes version of Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bar by Todd Wilbur)

1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
1 ¼ cups light brown sugar, packed
3 eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla
1 tsp ginger (powdered)
¼ tsp Kosher salt
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 cup dried cranberries(I use unsweetened), chopped, divided
6 oz. white chocolate chips

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
4-5 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Grated zest of one orange (no pith)
½ tsp vanilla

CAKE: Preheat the oven to 350F. For a cake-like (more authentic) bar, use a quarter-sheet pan.  For a more cookie-like bar, use a 15×11 jellyroll pan.  Line the pan with parchment paper or butter it well.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar together until smooth. Mix in eggs, vanilla, ginger and salt and beat well, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice.  On low speed, gradually add in the flour, scraping down the sides once or twice.  Stir in ¾ of the cup of chopped cranberries and the white chocolate chips.

Spread the batter in the pan, being sure to distribute it evenly to all sides and corners.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until edges are just starting to brown.  Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack.

FROSTING: Combine all of the frosting ingredients in a mixer using the whisk attachment (though a paddle will work) until smooth.  Spread the frosting evenly from side to side, corner to corner.  If you remembered to keep the divided ¼ cup of chopped cranberries, sprinkle them over the frosted bars.

Cut into desired shapes and either serve or store (for up to a week I’ve found) in an airtight container as they do tend to dry out in a cookie tin.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

There is a love-hate relationship in our house with Peanut Butter Blossoms.  BD and the locusts love them.   I … do not.  Oddly, these are one of those cookies that I always make for Christmas.  They are a nice addition to the cookie tray and most people who try them seem to love them.  Mazel tov and to each his own! I say.

Now that the possibility of the wrath of Bunny being visited upon my head is (almost) non-existent, I gleefully will admit to more than once  in my youth taking Peanut Blossoms from the cookie tray, popping the Hershey Kisses off to eat, and tossing the cookies.   I really should be ashamed of myself for that.   And yet …

Self-tattling aside, these cookies really do disappear with an appreciative crowd so if you’re a peanut butter and chocolate fan, I highly recommend you give them a try.  They come together quickly, are very easy to make and really are popular with the Christmas cookie set.

I’m partial to Jif Creamy Peanut Butter for these cookies.  This is one time that natural peanut butter needs to stay in the pantry; it wreaks havoc on the texture of these cookies and makes them unpleasantly oily.  Also, a chocoholic heads up: while a one-pound bag of Hershey’s Kisses will amply accommodate an entire batch of cookies, a two-pound bag will ensure snacking before, during, and after your bake-a-thon with no need for rationing [I shudder to think] or cookie desecration.

No pomp, no circumstance … Everyone into the pool!


The dough is ready when it cleans away from the sides of the bowl.  It’s a soft, but not sticky dough.  It’s ready to roll right away or you can refrigerate and roll later … just add a minute or two to the baking time if the dough is chilled.


One for me, one for the cookies, one for me, one for the cookies … This really is not an exaggeration for me.  In a funny (I think) coincidence, Stephanie just texted me that when she was little and in charge of unwrapping the Hershey’s Kisses, she was allowed just one kiss to nibble even though there were always at least half a bowl left over.  I think someone needs a hug!


The easiest/neatest container to use for rolling the dough balls in sugar is a pie plate.  I load up 8 or 10 balls and then shake the pie plate until they are coated with sugar.

The cookies don’t spread a lot. On a half-sheet tray you can get four across with five rows.  They bake for 10 minutes (maybe 11 or 12 if the dough is chilled) and then, very important here, as soon as they come out of the oven, gently press a Hershey Kiss into each cookie and then, using a spatula, put them onto a cooling rack until the kiss sets.  They become very melty (and delicious!) but firm back up in about 20 minutes.

After they’ve completely cooled, store in a cookie tin, layers separated by waxed paper or parchment.   My odd aversion aside, they truly are a winning recipe, much loved and anticipated during Christmas.  I hope you’ll give them a try.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

2 Tbs milk
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
sugar for rolling
48 Hershey Kisses

Preheat oven to 375F.

Combine the first ten ingredients in a mixer and beat to combine.

Form dough into 1-inch balls and then roll in the sugar.

Place on ungreased or parchment-lined cookie sheets and bake for 10 minutes.

Once removed from oven, immediately press a Hershey Kiss into the center of each cookie. Cool on a cooling rack until Kisses are firm.

Store in a cookie tin.

Grandma Zemke’s Gingerbread Cookies

The universally agreed upon greatest Christmas cookie in our house isn’t even one of my family recipes. It’s BD’s maternal grandmother Helen Molnar Zemke’s gingerbread cookies.  Up until two years ago, I had never attempted the cookies. I didn’t need to.  I’d just wait until Pat (BD’s mother, Helen’s daughter, my mother-in-law … you following?) would go into her baking frenzy and suddenly boxes of gingerbread cookies would appear in our house. Continue Reading

Absolutely Marvelous Caramel Matzoh Crunch

And it is … absolutely marvelous.

Every year when I bake the matzoh crunch, I’m reminded of a fictional account of a near-death experience in a blinding snowstorm with four of five siblings and one Mario-Andretti-Wanna-Be sister-in-law behind the wheel of a rented minivan.  As the story goes, there was a tradition, some years back, when available siblings and MAWB would make a weekend road trip between Thanksgiving and Christmas to a place within driving distance of their homes to sample and pick up beers and other provisions for Christmas.  One of these trips was to Montreal. Continue Reading

Christmas Sugar Cookies

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, o night when Christ was born;
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Mahalia Jackson or Nat King Cole singing that carol are pure Christmas spirit and everything wonderful I feel about Christmas. Growing up, December 1st always meant the arrival of  Mom’s stack of Christmas albums; the Advent wreath, a stiff wire form covered in fresh greens, red berries, and ribbons, topped with four candles – three purple and one pink; and the Advent calendar tacked to the kitchen door to the basement.  The season had arrived and cookies were not far behind!

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Video Demonstration – Nonnie’s Biscotti

Home is a place not only of strong affections, but of entire unreserve; it is life’s undress rehearsal, its backroom, its dressing room. ~Harriet Beecher Stowe

A holiday indulgence, if you please.  In all their splendor, linked below are eight uncut, unedited, completely amateur (by yours truly) videos of our day of biscotti making with Aunt Dot.  Interspersed with an intro to “The Monsta,” nuggets of family chatter and some wicked dance moves (don’t ask but do watch if you dare), you will find all of the secrets to making a perfect batch (or six if you are Aunt Dot) of Nonnie’s biscotti.  Enjoy or be afraid … you decide!

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And here we go … Compost Cookies

Cookies 2 019

I told the boys I was starting this blog to create a family “recipe book” so that if I were to die in a firey ball tomorrow, at least there would be good food at the wake (hey, they’re 8 and 9 … they love that sort of talk).  They immediately went cross-eyed when I told them I would start with Pasta Fazool (pasta e fagiola for the purist).  “No! No!  If you die in a fiery ball, I want compost cookies!”  “Me, too! Me, too!”  I’m pretty sure I heard a mumbled “who likes beans anyway?” but I ignored that sacrilege and pulled out the mixer.

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